She's Your Lover Now
Reviewed by Ron Chester

This Bob Dylan song was recorded in 1966 during the Blonde on Blonde period (my first-love Dylan album) and it shares its unique sound, which Dylan described in his January 1978 Playboy interview:

"The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time. Mostly I've been driving at a combination of guitar, harmonica and organ, but now I find myself going into territory that has more percussion in it and rhythms of the soul."

The song chronicles the aftermath of a stormy love affair, with three characters appearing in the song; Dylan, his former lover, and her new lover. Dylan alternately addresses the woman, and then the other man, while trying not to be adversely affected by his new relationship with the woman. This could be the recounting of an actual incident in which Dylan finds himself in a bar with the two others. Or it could be Dylan's musings about such a possible meeting.

In spite of being a favorite of many Dylan fans, there are only two Dylan performances of the song in circulation, both from the studio, as he has never performed it to an audience. There have been two cover versions of the song: by The Original Marauders in 1977 and Luxuria in 1988. Perhaps a study of this rarity would prove interesting.

History of the Song

The song was not even known to exist until the release of Dylan's first lyrics book in 1973, which gave the lyrics to three of the four verses of the song in the Blonde on Blonde chapter.

The two performances of the song in circulation consist of a solo version with Dylan playing piano and a full band version, with that wild mercury sound. There has been some confusion about which version came first, but it seems clear to me that the solo version was a demo version to introduce the song to the band.

The solo piano version first turned up on an acetate from the studio in 1980, but it has never been officially released. In 1991 the full band version was released by Columbia in The Bootleg Series. It appears that this version of the song may have been used to transcribe the lyrics for the Lyrics book, with its incomplete fourth verse simply omitted from the book.

Details about the recording of song are given in Telegraph 52 (Summer 1995) in Krogsgaard's excellent series on Dylan's recording sessions. Krogsgaard was given unprecedented access to the Sony Record Archives and was able to examine the recording logs and original tapes from the Columbia sessions.

The song was recorded on 4-track equipment at the Columbia Recording Studios in NYC on January 21, 1966. There were 19 takes of the song during three separate three-hour sessions that day from 2:30 pm until midnight. No other songs were recorded that day. This was very early in the Blonde on Blonde sessions. No song that made it onto the album had been recorded by this point in time, although he had recorded early versions of "Visions of Johanna" ("Freeze Out") in the previous session on November 30, 1965. In fact "One Of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)" which was recorded in the next session (four days later) is the only song from the NYC sessions that made it onto the album. All the rest came from the later Nashville sessions.

The working title of the song on the recording sheet was "Just a Little Glass of Water." Krogsgaard shows ten of the nineteen takes as short false starts, with the rest being 'complete' takes. The last take is identified as the version that was subsequently released on The Bootleg Series. He does not identify which take is the solo piano version, as he may not have been able to listen to all the takes.

Structure of the Song

The song has four verses, each containing eighteen lines. The first eleven lines address a former lover and have a rhyme scheme of AAB CCB DEFEE, reaching a musical climax at the end of the last line. The next seven lines begin by addressing her new lover, and follow a rhyme scheme of GG HH IJI, with the last line always being either "She's your lover now" or "You're her lover now."

The development of the song lyrics can be seen in the three attached versions of the song. The first is the solo piano version transcribed from a bootleg CD called The Lonesome Sparrow Sings. It is the only version that has the complete song. The second version is transcribed from the officially released full band version, which ends abruptly in the middle of the eleventh line of the last verse. Dylan stops after altering the lyrics of that line, possibly having been thrown off by something that occurred in the band just before that (possibly a broken string). The third version is how the song is shown in the Lyrics book, as well as in the Highway-61 Interactive CD-ROM. This version drops off the fourth verse completely, and incorrectly formats two lines onto one line in both the first and third verses. The only other source of lyrics to the song is the booklet to The Bootleg Series which gives the lyrics to the missing lines in the fourth verse.

Though incomplete, the Lyrics book version would have to be considered the 'official' version of the song, and is presumably the version that was copyrighted in 1971 and 1976, though one wonders why there are two copyright dates. For the other two versions of the song, any changes from that official version are highlighted in boldface type in the attachments.

Evolution of the Lyrics

It's interesting to trace the lyric changes from the solo version to the band version and then to the final Lyrics book version. Most of the changes are minor corrections to a word here and there, but often with the result of making the lyrics more concise, or more direct. For example in the second and third verses:
  • "Will you please tell that" becomes "But please tell that".
  • "What d'ya expect me to say?" becomes "Honey, what can I say?"
  • "They're all so nice, but why must everybody bow?" becomes simply "Must everybody bow?"
  • "Why must you stand there now with your fingers..." becomes
        "Now you stand here while your finger's..."
  • "Isn't there anything you can really say?" becomes "Ain't there nothin' you can say?"

    Other changes may have been made to produce a better rhythm while singing the song. For example in the second verse, "postcards of the pyramid" becomes "picture books of the pyramid." The very next line changes "snapshots of Billy the Kid" to "postcards of Billy the Kid", perhaps to give the line greater credibility.

    These changes seem like the natural honing of the lyrics as the performer discovers what works better while working on the song. They also convince me that the solo version is the earliest version of the song, as it seems to contain the roughest lyrics.

    However there are a few changes that may reveal more about Dylan in relation to this song and the experience it recounts. Clearly he is singing about a very painful time, as he is forced to face his former lover who is now with her new lover, and he reveals some pretty strong emotions and some pretty embarrassing events in the song.

    Perhaps he decided the first version revealed too much about himself. For example the first six lines of the first version paints a picture of a relationship so explosive that Dylan admits he went crazy ("To see me so crazy") and proceeded to destroy "everything" he had, which certainly included his relationship with the woman, but also suggests a violent tantrum with his possessions being smashed in a fit of rage, while the landlord and pawnbroker look on in amusement. But in the Lyrics book version of the song, this section has become much less personal, as now he says "The scene was so crazy" and he now destroys "what I had" which is less sweeping in the image it evokes than "everything I had".

    Three lines later in the first version Dylan asks "Why'd you wanna hurt me so bad?" In the later versions this has become "Why'd you have to treat me so bad?" The focus has been shifted from his hurt to her actions, her treatment of him. Again it is less personal in the later version, revealing less about his own feelings.

    And in the last verse the first version has Dylan saying "My voice is really warm", whereas in the band version it has become "Her voice is really warm". It appears that he'd rather put the attention on her than on himself. He'd like the song to be more about her than himself, but in the end it expresses his complex reactions to this difficult new state of affairs.

    Performance of the Song

    As with all Dylan songs the experience of the performance produces a much more complete understanding than a mere reading of the lyrics. The solo piano performance is described in considerable detail by Paul Williams in his excellent book, Performing Artist, Vol 1 (p. 179-84). His praise of this performance (p. 180) is considerable:

    "If I had to choose a single performance to stand as evidence of Dylan's greatness as an artist, one momentary breath of song to define his essence and defend his stature, "She's Your Lover Now" (solo at piano) would be the one."

    My own preferance is for the full band version, perhaps because it was so satisfying to discover another song with the wild mercury sound after so many years of loving the Blonde on Blonde album. But the additional instruments also add another layer of meaning to the song which is missing from the solo version in my opinion.

    There is some confusion about who the performers were on this track. There is agreement about the following:

    Besides these three, there is an organ, piano and drums. Most people have cited Garth Hudson as the organist, but strangely John Bauldie identifies the organist as Al Kooper in the booklet to The Bootleg Series, even though the Sony credits in the very same booklet gives the organist as Hudson. The Sony credits list Richard Manuel on piano, as does Krogsgaard. But Bauldie says the piano is played by Paul Griffin, and in his recent book on the recording sessions, Clinton Heylin asserts that it must be Dylan on piano! The Sony credits and Krogsgaard show Sandy Konikoff on drums, while Bauldie says the drummer is Levon Helm, and Heylin says it is Bobby Gregg. Krogsgaard adds Michael John as a possible performer but does not designate his instrument.

    One of the first things that strikes the listener in comparing the two versions is that the band version seems to have a much faster tempo. Much of this perception is the result of the instrumentation. Actually the band version plays the second verse only two seconds faster than the solo version, and the third verse six seconds faster than the solo version. But the difference seems greater because the band version has the constant rat-tat-tat of the drum beat that is missing in the piano version. Dylan's lines are actually sung rather slowly in both versions, but the band version has the driving beat that adds considerable energy and movement to the solo version.

    Floating over the top of this ceaseless insistent beat and Dylan's lyrics is a soaring, ethereal organ holding long notes which build to the climaxes in each verse, which then completely disappears on lines 12-13, as well as being very soft or absent on lines 17-18. More on that later. The organ sound is very similar to both "Visions of Johanna" and "Sooner or Later" which were both recorded right around the same time. But there is no harmonica in "She's Your Lover Now", whereas the harp is prominent in the other two songs.

    There's an interesting contrast as the song progresses. As Dylan sings to his former lover in the first eleven lines of each verse, his voice seems to build in emotion and intensity, reinforced by the organ part, to a climax at the end of the last of these lines. He then turns to her new lover with two lines which convey less emotion, even indifference, conveyed in large part by the sudden absence of any organ sound. In the next three lines he's describing the woman to him, which brings out plenty of passion, and the return of the organ. Each verse then ends with two lines to the man, delivered with a calculated matter of factness (and little or no organ), as he reminds him that "She's your lover now." It's almost as though the purpose of the organ part in the song is to dramatize Dylan's feelings about the woman. This is a level of complexity to the band version which is not possible in the solo piano version.

    A very interesting reinforcement of the meaning of the lyrics comes from the piano at the end of the sixth line of the fourth verse. Dylan sings about the "dead man's last pistol shot, baby" and as he holds the note on the last word, the piano plays a descending glissando, crashing to a climax on a note at the bottom of the scale. This has the effect of sounding like a pistol shot ringing out, reminiscent of the drum shot heard around the world at the beginning of "Like a Rolling Stone". This dramatic device is not present in the solo piano version, another suggestion that the band version came later than the solo version.

    The irony is that the passion in his voice betrays his true feelings which are considerably stronger than the pretended indifference he tries to communicate to the woman with his words. In three successive verses he tells her that if she didn't want to be with him, she could just leave. He also says he's not up in the castle, which is where everybody goes who cares. He cares so little that he can't even recall their times together in San Francisco and El Paso. He's trying very hard to convince her (and himself?) that he's over her, that none of it matters any more. But it's only when he addresses the other man that the passion leaves his voice, revealing the true subject of his indifference. And of course she has much the same thing going on. She tells him she's not afraid of him, but Dylan says "your eyes cry wolf". There are plenty of sparks still flying between the two of them.

    It's also interesting to see how he views this woman. She seems pretentious and full of her own importance, expecting everyone to bow and fawn over her when she brags about her experiences ("picture postcards of the pyramid..."). He protests as she flirts with him again ("your finger's goin' up my sleeve"), knowing their passion makes it hard for him to truly break free ("She's got her iron chain").

    And a major element in the passion he feels about her is that he doesn't know how to predict her actions. He's expecting her to flip out at any time. In the first verse this is expressed as "she's comin' on so strange". By the third verse he's expecting all sorts of strange behavior from her ("She'll be standing on the bar soon, with a fish head an' a harpoon, an a fake beard plastered on her brow"). After all, didn't her antics (and sexual indiscretions?) in the past nearly drive him crazy?

    Which brings him to the final punch line of each verse, delivered to the other man, most dramatically expressed in the third verse when he says "You'd better do somethin' quick, she's your lover now." There are many levels to the last line (and the song title). It's a challenge to the new guy. Dylan doesn't seem to believe he'll be able to handle her either. But there's some relief in the fact (or hope?) that at least he no longer has to deal with her. And the repetition of the line each verse may be necessary to convince himself that it really is the case, as strong feelings keep telling him otherwise. In truth, he's still dealing with her.


    How could such a great song have remained in obscurity for so long? Dylan spent nine hours in the studio perfecting the song, but scrapped it in the end, not releasing it for another twenty-five years. What's going on here?

    Perhaps the comments of Suze Rotolo in Victoria Balfour's Rock Wives in 1986 offer a clue. She was asked how she felt about especially bitter songs like "Ballad in Plain D", which was inspired by the break-up of their relationship. She answered:

    "I never felt hurt by them. I understood what he was doing. It was the end of something and we both were hurt and bitter. . . His art was his outlet, his exorcism. It was healthy. That was the way he wrote out his life."

    Could it be that the recording session was a sufficiently cathartic experience that it had at least temporarily relieved Dylan of some of the pain of this relationship? Perhaps he had gotten it all out, at least for the time being. And perhaps he decided it was just too personal and too revealing to be put onto the album. And then with the passing of the years, perhaps the further healing of time made it all right with him to put the song into the Lyrics book, and then onto The Bootleg Series.

    Finally one might wonder why the take selected for inclusion on The Bootleg Series was one with an incomplete final verse. Krogsgaard lists nine complete takes of the song. Didn't the band make it through the whole song in any of these nine? Probably so.

    The simple answer is to say that Dylan has never hestitated to release something he wants on an album, simply because of a technical flaw here or there in the song. Examples would be the barking dog during "Every Grain of Sand" on The Bootleg Series, or Dylan cracking up on Bringing It All Back Home at the beginning of "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream." Perhaps The Bootleg Series version of "She's Your Lover Now" was simply the best realization of the song musically, in spite of its abrupt end.

    But another possibility comes to mind. Perhaps this is art imitating life. After all, the song is about a relationship that seems to have come to an abrupt end before Dylan was ready. Perhaps the frustration we feel at the sudden end of this track mirrors some of the feeling Dylan was trying to exorcise with the song. We long for the song to continue, but it is not to be. Life is sometimes like that.

    Of course this is pure speculation, and as usual, Dylan isn't saying, other than through his art.

    "People can learn everything about me through my songs, if they know where to look."
    -- Bob Dylan 1990 --

    © March 10, 1997 by Ron Chester
    All Rights Reserved